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Something special

In 2008, the Chester Cyclones football team played host to Byrnes High School in a pre-season scrimmage. The Rebels were already an established powerhouse by that time, winning multiple state titles and having attained a national ranking. Chester was coming off an appearance in the AAA state title game, the school's first in 45 years, so it figured to be a good match-up.
I have several friends in Spartanburg that had told me all about Byrnes, including Ronnie Black, the team's stadium announcer. He came to the scrimmage and raved about a junior running back named Marcus Lattimore.
"I hope you get to see him do something special tonight," Ronnie said.
I had witnessed Lattimore run all over Summerville in the previous year's AAAA state title game.
"I went to state last year Ronnie," I said. "I'm not interested in seeing him do THAT to my alma mater."
It didn't so much matter what I wanted to see, though. About the time I got the words "alma mater" out of my mouth, Lattimore ripped off an 80-yard touchdown on the scrimmage's first play. Chester held their own that night (falling only by a 7-6 score), but there didn't seem to be anything that could stop Lattimore.
Unfortunately, on Saturday, something did stop him. Lattimore has been one of the nation's top running backs for the past three years for the South Carolina Gamecocks. He looked to be on his way to a huge game against Tennessee when a low tackle by a defender bent Lattimore's knee at a grotesque angle. The full diagnosis hasn't been made public yet, but Lattimore will be out the rest of this year and perhaps all of next season rehabbing the injury.
I have to confess to not being a Gamecock fan, casting my allegiance with the state's other major university. However, when an injury happens, it becomes less about team and more about the individual affected. From everything I know of Lattimore, he is a heck of an individual.
I can't say I know Lattimore. I met and spoke with him very briefly following a couple of state title games. The last of those, oddly enough, was a loss to Dorman. He was as humble and classy after that defeat as he was in wins the previous couple of years. Maintaining an even keel and miniscule ego isn't easy when you're an 18-year-old kid that's been featured on ESPN and magazine covers and ranked as the top prospect in the country. Most high school seniors would tend to get a big head when every superstar coach in the country calls their cell phone everyday or stops by the house for dinner. Somehow, he didn't.
My Spartanburg friends do know Lattimore and his family. They certainly acknowledge that he's an amazing athlete, but they are even quicker to point out ow grounded he is. They talk about the time he takes to talk to kids and church groups. One good family friend told me Lattimore is actually a bit of a mentor to Gamecocks teammates that sometimes need help making the right decisions. Little wonder that his injury has elicited a nationwide reaction. You feel bad when a good player gets hurt, but you are truly saddened when they also happen to be a good person.
At the end of the 2008 season, Byrnes won another state title. That game was played just before the AAA title game, which featured the Chester Cyclones. I guess the image of Lattimore and his teammates tapping Chester players on their helmets coming out of the tunnel and telling them to go win their title has always stuck with me. It's one of the reasons I like to see him do well, even though he wears garnet and black instead of orange and white.
Suffering a severe knee injury a year after tearing up his other knee will be a lot to recover from. Mentally, it has to be tough to go through another long rehabilitation right after finishing the first one and assuming he was back to full health. If Lattimore wants to get back on the field, I hope he can. That would just be the latest example of him doing something special on the football field.